EXCLUSIVE — An annual football game featuring lawmakers and ex-NFL players was co-sponsored this year by an affiliate of a Chinese electric carmaker, while the organizing charity has been led by a recent lobbyist for a sanctioned Chinese military-backed company.
The Congressional Football Game in Washington was Sept. 28 and benefits the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, which supports “families of USCP officers killed in the line of duty, and officers who have sustained serious line-of-duty injuries,” along with other groups. But members of Congress are raising concerns over how the organizer took cash from RIDE, a subsidiary of the U.S.-affiliate of BYD, a Chinese company affected by a ban on federal funding for foreign-tied manufacturers, while the charity’s recent president lobbied for China’s Huawei, a Washington Examiner investigation has found.
“As a former college athlete and a new member of the 118th Congress, I participated in the Congressional Football Game to support our Capitol Police Memorial Fund and to build closer relationships with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Don Davis (D-NC) told the Washington Examiner. “It has now come to my attention that one of the major event sponsors has direct ties to Chinese manufacturing firms posing threats to our national security. Let me be clear: Had I known, I would not have participated and would have taken immediate steps to intervene.”
Davis is one of several politicians taking issue with these connections who say they weren’t aware until the Washington Examiner pointed them out. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN), whose office noted he went to practices but didn’t end up attending the Sept. 28 game, said it’s a “huge problem” and “very concerning.”
Meanwhile, spokeswoman Sara Robertson for Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), a co-captain for the combined congressional and ex-NFL team against current and former Capitol Police officers, said Congressional Football Game for Charity, Inc., should “strongly consider returning those funds to the sender as the values and beliefs of the Chinese Communist Party are counter to everything America stands for.” The Capitol Police did not return a request for comment.
The game has occurred since 2004 and also benefits Our Military Kids, a grantmaker to children of deployed National Guard and Reserve personnel, and A Advantage 4 Kids, a group benefiting children with special needs, according to the charity’s website. The website says participating ex-NFL players in the past have included Herschel Walker and Santana Moss. Sponsors in 2023 included the NFL, Amazon, McDonalds, Bank of America, Nike, and Netflix, as well as several other major corporations and trade groups, according to the charity’s website.
RIDE is also listed on the website for the game. BYD has been described as the world’s largest electric automaker, and it was founded outside of China’s city of Shenzhen in 1995 by Wang Chuanfu, a Chinese billionaire and, reportedly, an ex-Chinese government researcher.
BYD has also received the equivalent of over $1 billion in subsidies and grants from China’s government since 2007 while seeking to “implement CCP international strategy, and directly connect to Beijing’s military apparatus,” Emily de La Bruyere, a China expert and now-senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said in 2020 congressional testimony. Lawmakers in 2019 approved U.S. funding restrictions intended to apply to BYD and other China-linked companies, which went into effect in 2021, the Washington Post reported.
“They pledged a whopping $5k to the game for the first time ever,” Bret Manley, chairman of the board of Congressional Football Game for Charity, Inc., told the Washington Examiner. Manley, executive vice president for the government affairs firm Elevate, was referring to RIDE.
Manley declined to respond to a detailed list of questions about his organization. He is listed in 2023 financial disclosures as being registered to lobby on behalf of various entities, including the MLB Players Association, Microsoft, General Electric, the National Basketball Players Association, and the NFL Players Association.
“Go to print with your sad deluded conspiracy theory,” Manley, ex-chief of staff for former Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who has also participated in the football game over the years, said.
BYD was identified in a 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to be one of 82 foreign or Chinese companies “potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers” outside China’s Xinjiang region through abusive labor transfer programs as recently as 2019.” Victoria Coates, ex-deputy national security adviser under former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner BYD is “trying to buy influence in Washington,” noting its “Chinese government ties are not hidden.”
Spokesman James Hogge for Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) told the Washington Examiner the congressman finds the China-ties “disturbing,” adding he “wholeheartedly believes that the money should be returned and not a single dime should be taken from these bad actors in the future.”
Meanwhile, tax forms filed in 2022 by Congressional Football Game for Charity, Inc., list its principal officer and president as Glenn LeMunyon, who lobbied for Huawei through his firm LeMunyon Group between 2021 and 2022, according to financial disclosures filed with Congress. LeMunyon’s firm also registered in 2023 to lobby for Futurewei, filing a termination report that was posted on the Senate’s website on Wednesday.
National security experts have long warned that Huawei could be used by the Chinese Communist Party for intelligence-gathering purposes, and the Pentagon determined in 2020 that Huawei is owned and controlled by China’s military. Huawei was slapped with a ban in 2022 by the Federal Communications Commission from selling new equipment in the United States, though Republican lawmakers have called for tougher sanctions. The FBI found through an investigation in recent years that Huawei products “could disrupt U.S. nuclear arsenal communications,” CNN reported.
On the other hand, the Air Force in 2020 issued a suspension on Futurewei from government contracting after the Justice Department charged it and Huawei “with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,” also known as RICO.
LeMunyon Group is listed on the football game’s charity website as providing “additional support” for the event. Manley said the firm “doesn’t sponsor anything.”
LeMunyon did not return a request for comment. The football charity did not report paying any of its board members, including LeMunyon and Manley, in its last fiscal year. The charity’s revenue was $390,500, tax forms show.
“I have played in the game to raise charity in the past. However, I will not in the future if this situation is not corrected,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-IN) told the Washington Examiner. “This is a serious reminder that the CCP is actively trying to undermine the United States, and we must be vigilant.”
While Murphy was listed as a participant in the game on the charity’s website, he did not end up playing, nor did several others listed, including Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL), John James (R-MI), or Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY).
Futurewei and BYD did not reply to requests for comments.
“I’m upset about that,” Burchett said of the China ties. “We slipped up.”
As for the football game itself, the final score was 16 to 14, the Washington Informer reported. Capitol Police won on a two-point conversation, according to the outlet.